So not really etching, exactly...but experimenting with printing an old etched plate with my cold mount laminator.
I've gotten a bunch of questions recently about my laminator masquerading as a printing press. With lockdowns continuing and many studios and printing co-ops being closed, printmakers are doing a lot of work at home, and I guess a lot of folks are getting tired of printing by hand with a wooden spoon and looking for something better (though not thousands of dollars better). So I've been asked if the laminator can handle relief printing? Yep. I've used lino blocks mounted on mat board and MDF, with a max thickness of nearly an inch, with good results. Can it handle engraving? Sure, I've pulled decent drypoint engravings on plexiglas. Can it do collagraphs? Absolutely! Mat board, cardboard, encaustic, TetraPak, even bark and vines glued onto mat board have worked fine. Great for embossing. I've run feathers, even old rusty washers that I found out in my farm pastures. Monotypes? Oh, my favorite! Ink up some Yupo and do a dark field monotype, lay on some lightly dampened Rives BFK, and watch the magic.
Then I was asked if the press could handle etching. Er.... Honestly the last time I etched anything was in college, about a quarter century ago. I wasn't great at it. I wasn't systematic about timing, failed to plan each etch carefully, and somehow thought I could get away with printing a plate once or twice and having it turn out great. Nope. As a college student I didn't appreciate trial and error. I never pulled a large enough edition of anything to realize that the best prints would show up somewhere in the middle, after the ink got to just the right consistency and I figured out the plate's eccentricities, but before anything started to wear down. I didn't have the patience for a close examination of each print and the troubleshooting that it takes to make the next one better. I didn't keep notes. (Also--if you procrastinate and think you're going to get a week's worth of printing done the night before it's due, you're in for a long night.) So when I got this question I had to answer "I think so, but I can't be sure because I haven't tried it". I guess I could have left it there, but then I remembered that I had actually saved one or two of those old plates from college, and if I could figure out where in blazes they were I could actually test them out!
Zinc plate with flat bite, actually with the remains of an engraved image under it--I must have reused the plate a few times.
This is a weird old plate. I must have been given an assignment to etch the plate in multiple overlapping layers, and I can't figure out if my inspiration for it was Rosie the Riveter, Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, or the title sequence to Walker, Texas Ranger episodes. Is that a little tiny town under the figure's feet? Is she Godzilla? How sleep deprived was I in college? Anyway I cleaned it up from some corrosion it had gotten over the years, and set about printing.
So, is etching my new fave? Nope. It is a lot of work. I'm not wild about the chemicals and the specialized equipment I'd need, and I haven't the first notion of how to start with less toxic alternatives. But I do feel like now I can say that the laminator can do a decent job with an etched plate. If you have the skill and the patience, and you want to give it a go, I can recommend trying it with this equipment! If you have any tips for etching at home, please feel free to leave a comment below, I'm eager to hear them!
I think the faults in my etching lie in the human, not the machine.
Alexia Rosoff Wilber
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